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Visual reflections: Lollywood billboards, just a commercial medium or an ideological allegorical literacy?

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This article explores the use of allegory within the practice of designing Pakistani cinema’s ‘Lollywood billboards’. It is highlighted that as a visual medium these billboards articulate a visual narrative that has rhetorical qualities, decoded by the Pakistani viewer as clearly as spoken words. It is suggested that even though the purpose of the production of these billboards is purely commercial, their power of communication as visual narratives reflecting an indigenous social and cultural ideology cannot be denied. Within a strict definition these cinema billboards are not allegorical, when one story is used to parallel another to illuminate it, whereas the billboards illustrate the story of the film. However, the complex shared visual language and the visual rhetoric of the billboards, by suggesting the narrative of the film and inviting interpretation, in effect form something that is more than illustration and approaches allegory. This study is based on semiotic and multimodal literacy theory, where semiotics is the study of signs (Saussure) and multimodality in texts is ‘ensembles of modes brought together to realize particular meanings’. This study investigates production, distribution and consumption of Lollywood billboards and positions them as an allegorical literacy practice – one that involves reading and writing, albeit with a visual medium other than traditional print. Rooted in New Literacy Studies, a branch of scholarship that explores reading and writing primarily as social practices and cultural forms, this study understands literacy in relation to the larger social and cultural contexts in which the reading of media texts exists in the Pakistani visual culture. My research finds that the meanings and purposes that guide these cinema billboards as media text both contest and reflect facets of a social and cultural ideology that can help privilege the public as viewer by engaging with an established yet developing visual grammar – a visual rhetoric.
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Keywords: Lollywood billboards; New Literacy Studies; allegory; graphic communication design; multimodal literacy; semiotics; visual grammar

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Central Saint Martins

Publication date: 2012-03-01

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  • The Journal of Writing in Creative Practice is the official organ of the Writing Purposefully in Art and Design (Writing PAD) network. It offers art and design institutions an arena in which to explore and develop the notion of thinking through writing as a parallel to visual discourse in art and design practice. The journal aims to extend the debates to all national and international higher educational art and design institutions.
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